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Ohno survives bump, skates to historic 7th Olympic medal

Apolo Anton Ohno of the U.S. reacts after winning bronze in the men's 1,000-meter short track speedskating race. (George Bridges / MCT)
Apolo Anton Ohno of the U.S. reacts after winning bronze in the men's 1,000-meter short track speedskating race. (George Bridges / MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Well, it was a broken record.

With the same broken-record story line of short-track speedskating.

Apolo Anton Ohno, the former in-line skater from Seattle, won a record seventh Winter Olympics medal on Saturday night. It wasn't gold, however. It was bronze, although it might've been one of the toughest third-place finishes of his career.

The soul-patched legend survived being bumped and falling back to last place, and came on strong at the end to make history in the 1,000-meter final. Ohno surpasses long-track speedskating icon Bonnie Blair as American Winter Olympian with the most all-time medals.

He'll get two more chances over the next week to add to his medal haul in the 500 and team relay.

On this night, one in which he stood coolly wearing a black jacket with a fur-lined collar before each race, Ohno proved he had the toughness to make his mark.

He did so with a brilliant last-race move to progress from last place to medal contention. South Korea's Jung-Su Lee and Ho-Suk Lee took the gold and silver, respectively, before a charged crowd at Pacific Coliseum.

American J.R. Celski, who won the bronze in the 1,500 meters, didn't advance to the final in this race. In a semifinal heat, Celski was disqualified for taking out Canada's Francois Hamelin. If not for the disqualification, Celski still would've finished third and out of contention for the final.

"I wasn't in a qualifying position, and there was contact, and stuff just didn't go my way," Celski said. "It's unfortunate. I just lost my momentum after I passed. I kind of leaned forward, and I came back on my heels, and there was contact.

"I'm not disappointed at all. This is awesome for my first Games."

He happily deferred to Ohno. This was the night for the man who Celski idolizes.

So, where does Ohno stand among the American legends of the Winter Games? Coming into this race, with Ohno and Bonnie Blair tied as America's most medals-heavy Winter Olympians, there was great debate about whether the short-track specialist belonged on the list.

Ohno's detractors point to the fact that, of Blair's six medals, five are gold and one is bronze. Ohno has two gold, two silver and three bronze medals.

By our baseline measure of excellence in sports, Blair trumps Ohno because the goal is victory, not placing high. We have a million cliches about that. Second place is the first loser. Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

They're all nice sayings, but they don't always apply in short track, a sport known almost as much for its crashes as its successes. In this form of speedskating, there's something excellent to be said for both Ohno's longevity and his ability to succeed amid peril.

Like Blair, Ohno has succeeded over three Olympics. One small difference is that, because of an old Winter Games schedule, Blair's success came over the course of six years (1988, 1992, 1994). The reason for that is, before 1992, the Winter and Summer Games were in the same year. Then they were split, with the winter coming two years earlier.

In contrast, it has taken eight years for Ohno to participate in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games. It's not that big of a deal, and it's tempered by the fact that Blair (who was 30 in 1994) was older in her third Games than the 27-year-old Ohno. But Ohno, a "Dancing with the Stars" champion, has needed a slightly longer attention span to reach his goals, and it has been a challenge for him with all the opportunities he has turned down to pursue athletic glory.

And two more years in short track has meant two more years' worth of risking major injury. He has remained healthy, focused and consistent in a sport that leaves a skater one bad movement from catastrophe. It's almost the speedskating equivalent to a running back lasting in football.

It doesn't make him better than Blair, or even Eric Heiden, who set an untouchable standard with five long-track golds in 1980. But Ohno's hardware cannot be ignored, and for that, he belongs on the mantel. Instead of worrying about who's better, the appropriate reaction is to divide the excellence into different categories.

Most impressively excellent: Heiden.

Most consistently excellent: Blair.

Most daringly excellent: Ohno.

The short-track kid who was born in Federal Way, Wash., who grew up in-line skating, may not be considered as regal as his fellow icons. But in his own way, he's put himself in their class.

MOST WINTER OLYMPIC MEDALS BY A U.S. ATHLETE

7 — Apolo Ohno, short track

6 — Bonnie Blair, speedskating

5 — Eric Heiden, speedskating

4 — Shani Davis, speedskating

4 — Chad Hedrick, speedskating

4 — Dianne Holum, speedskating

4 — Bode Miller, alpine skiing

4 — Cathy Turner, short track

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